Jun 10

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Round 10: the NUMBER ONES.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops47 comments • 1,149 views

With just one round left to run, the Seventies continue to claw back some of their lost ground. Our leading decade took a knock in the Number Twos, as Johnny Logan notched up the lowest average score of any track to date – but with the voting far from over, all this could change in a heartbeat.

Cumulative scores so far:
1(1) The Eighties – 35.52 points.
2(2) The Nineties – 33.72 points.
3(4) The Seventies – 31.05 points.
4(3) The Teens – 30.01 points.
5(5) The Noughties – 29.53 points.
6(6) The Sixties – 29.16 points.

Mindful of the fact that this is a post about UK Number Ones, on a site that already contains the ultimate guide to the subject, I’m going to try and keep these final blurbs short. Toe-trampling ain’t my style!

1960: The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown (video) (Tom’s write-up on Popular)
1970: England World Cup Squad – Back Home (video: at 3:46) (Tom’s write-up on Popular)
1980: Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno (video) (Tom’s write-up on Popular)
1990: Madonna – Vogue (video)
2000: Oxide And Neutrino – Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty) (video)
2010: Roll Deep – Good Times (video)

(Download the MP3)

While I’m aware of the reverence shown to them by the generation above me, The Everly Brothers have never really floated my boat. Perhaps it’s because I don’t get the premise: two brothers, singing love songs to the same girl? Doesn’t that rather dissipate the emotional impact? That said, I’m not about to quibble with their way with a melody, or with the blue-eyed sweetness of their vocal style. It took me a while to unpack the meaning of “Cathy’s Clown”, as it wasn’t immediately obvious that the fourth line of the chorus switches to reported speech. But now that I’m over the hump, I’ll grant them points for competent songcraft and pleasant delivery. I’m sure they’ll be pleased.

Although the England World Cup Squad‘s “Back Home” sounds as if it belongs in a different musical universe to the rest of 1970’s pop, it was in fact the work of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter: best known for “Puppet On A String”, “Congratulations”, Slik’s “Forever And Ever” and various Bay City Rollers hits. This was the first football record to chart, setting the template for “Blue Is The Colour”, “Good Old Arsenal”, “Leeds United” and Monty Python’s “We Love The Yangtse”, and while I’m not about to make false claims for its artistry, I’ll give it credit for avoiding hubristic triumphalism. The message is “We’ll do our best”, not “We’re going to win”. There is a difference.

Like many people – including the committee of my university’s hall of residence, who duly booked Geno Washington as the entertainment for one of our formal dinners at the end of 1980 – I assumed that Dexy’s Midnight Runners were offering unqualified praise for Kevin Rowland’s erstwhile hero. But the warning (“And now you’re all over, your song is so tame”) was there all along, garbled by Rowland’s diction as it might have been – and if we had but realised, we could have been spared a dismal let-down at the student hop. “There There My Dear” was, for me, Dexy’s Mark One’s finest hour, but “Geno” will do just fine.

(A passing mention, if I may, for its producer Pete “Eighteen With A Bullet” Wingfield, who played keyboards for the Everly Brothers for the thick end of twenty years. Met him once, at a family funeral. Nice chap.)

In the wake of Tom Ewing’s excellent (and Pet Shop Boys sanctioned!) Pitchfork piece on the subject, “imperial phase” has been quite the phrase de nos jours in some of the circles which I inhabit. Madonna‘s own imperial phase reached its pinnacle with “Vogue”, which soundtracked my 1990 more than any other record. Even my partner, who hates clubs and doesn’t dance unless he’s pissed to the point of near-collapse, would ritually make an exception when “Vogue” came on in our local gay fleapit disco. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the ultimate accolade.

Yesterday, while appending a comment to Dorian Lynskey’s Guardian blog post about feeling on the wrong side of a musical generation gap, I forgot to include a prime personal instance of what-the-fuck-are-these-kids-PLAYING-at bafflement. Strictly speaking,Oxide and Neutrino are the fifth UK Garage act to appear in our 2000 Top Ten, but it seems daft to mention them in the same breath as MJ Cole’s “Crazy Love” or Craig David’s “Fill Me In”. Where Cole offers aspirational sleekness, Oxide and Neutrino offer gunshots, gabble and (ahem) grime, crashing the swanky uptown party with their rough mates. If I remember correctly, the leading lights of the established UKG scene were so concerned at this shifting of the ground that some sort of vetting committee was set up, in order to draw up lists of approved and banned records. And so came the schism, as UKG begat grime, and grime begat…

Roll Deep, from whose ranks sprang Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Wiley (who remains their leader to this day). And guess what? Yup, you’ve got it. Not to be left behind in the breaking-big-and-getting-paid stakes, Roll Deep have “done a Dizzee” (and a Tinchy, and a Chipmunk, and an Aggro Santos, and a Professor Green…), ditching the grime and chucking out yet another (all together now!) club banger.

If I had been writing this blurb three weeks ago, then I would have been making a stronger case for the raucous cheer of “Good Times” – but listening again to these six songs on the train back from London a couple of days ago, I found that its take on clubbing-as-escape-from-the-daily-grind suffered in comparison to Madonna’s more elevated and empathetic approach. Where Madonna speaks of longing “to be something better than you are today”, Roll Deep merely urge you to grab, to consume, to flash your cash and get twatted to oblivion. But hey, if all you want to do is jump around in the middle of Walkabout, in your sponsored T-shirt, on your Carnage bar crawl, then “Good Times” will serve you well.

Over to you for the last time, then. Voting will remain open on all rounds until the end of Thursday June 10th, and I’ll be revealing the final results on Friday June 11th.


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  1. 1
    Mike Atkinson on 4 Jun 2010 #

    156 points: Madonna – Vogue
    151 points: Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno
    144 points: The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown
    106 points: Oxide And Neutrino – Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)
    82 points: Roll Deep – Good Times
    75 points: England World Cup Squad – Back Home

    My votes:
    6 points: Madonna – Vogue
    5 points: Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno
    4 points: The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown
    3 points: Roll Deep – Good Times
    2 points: Oxide And Neutrino – Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)
    1 point: England World Cup Squad – Back Home

  2. 2
    Lionel d'Lion on 4 Jun 2010 #

    I must admit to being surprised. Scanning the list before listening to the songs I fully expected the England song to come a definite last, but those last two were almost indistinguishably dreadful.

    Assuming I can’t give them both nul points my votes are, then:

    6 points – The Everly Brothers
    5 points – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
    4 points – Madonna
    3 points – England World Cup Squad
    2 points – Oxide and Neutrino
    1 point – Roll Deep

  3. 3
    Ben on 4 Jun 2010 #

    6 – Madonna
    5 – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
    4 – The Everly Brothers
    3 – England WC Squad
    2 – Oxide & Neutrino
    1 – Ugh Roll Deep ugh

  4. 4
    taDOW on 4 Jun 2010 #

    6 – madonna
    5 – everly bros
    4 – roll deep
    3 – oxide & neutrino
    2 – dexys
    1 – england

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 4 Jun 2010 #

    I like all six!

    6 – Dexys
    5 – Everly Bros
    4 – Madonna
    3 – Oxide & Neutrino
    2 – England
    1 – Roll Deep

  6. 6
    JonnyB on 4 Jun 2010 #

    6 – Dexy’s. I can’t give this anything but top marks. I love the changes of pace – from the intro into the verse and onwards, I love the lazy horns, I love the way he sings it. It’s just joyful.
    5 – Madonna. It just grooves along nicely.
    4 – Everlies. I’ve marked down this era all the way through, as that twee early sixties sound just isn’t my thing – but this is a cut above. You can hear John and Paul listening to it and making notes, and those simple guitar fills lift it for me.
    3 – Roll Deep. Again, not my thing, but a good leap-about-like-a-lunatic song.
    2 – England. Let’s be clear – this wouldn’t be on my car stereo. But it has great redeeming features. As you say the ‘we’ll do our best’ bit appeals. I like the naivity, I like the fact that it was the first and – although clearly they wanted it to chart and make money – not part of the cynical production line. Above all I like the fact that it’s a song for England, not a song for Inger-Land.
    1 – Oxide. Mike – there appears to be a problem with the music streaming, as instead of this one there is some burst of INTERFERENCE and SHOUTING. He says, like a smug old tosser. In all seriousness, and in the spirit of the DL article, I am a bit horrified by my own violently negative reaction to this. I think it’s rubbish, I think it’s just a load of old noise, I think ALL POP MUSIC LIKE IT SHOULD BE BANNED OR SOMETHING. Which disturbs me a bit, as it’s only a bit of music that’s not greatly designed for a bloke in Norfolk who keeps chickens, and people who have strong reactions like that are usually very suspect. My loathing for it is my problem, not its. But one point, and I will go away and watch daytime telly.

  7. 7
    punctum on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Nothing to say here that I haven’t already said or will be saying in the future (or have already said in secret but that’s nobody’s concern), so just the points:

    6 points – Oxide & Neutrino
    5 points – Everly Brothers
    4 points – Dexy’s
    3 points – Roll Deep
    2 points – Madonna
    1 point – England WC Squad

    To correct the aesthetic balance, the top five of these are all terrific and the differentials are only relative, and even “Back Home” is quite endearing in its own sold-not-a-bean-in-Scotland (although it was co-written by a Scot!) way.

    About Lynskey etc.: shouldn’t the solution be that music writers who don’t feel they’re up to it any more should step down and make way for new ones who do, since the former are by their own definition redundant and unreliable?

  8. 8
    lonepilgrim on 4 Jun 2010 #

    There’s a significant difference in quality between the top and bottom three
    6 points – Madonna
    almost as good as the Sue Sylvester original – great groove
    5 points – The Everly Brothers
    wonderful – sounding simultaneously ancient and modern
    4 points – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
    Taut, feisty and still compelling
    3 points – Roll Deep
    a cut-price hymn to hedonism this lacks the lyrical, musical and spiritual ambition of Vogue (or Geno for that matter)
    2 points – Oxide and Neutrino
    this lacks the tension and grit it appears to be reaching for
    1 point – England World Cup Squad
    England play at a lethargic pace and with no obvious goal-scorer they look set for an early bath

  9. 9
    Mike Atkinson on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Re. JonnyB on O&N at #6: An old friend, with broad tastes, who has obsessively followed the charts since childhood – and still does – also got REALLY REALLY ANGRY about Oxide & Neutrino. A couple of years later, I remember him naming it as the worst UK Number One of all time.

  10. 10
    JonnyB on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Did ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Deep Blue Something get to #1? If so, that’s the worst, and another ‘trigger track’ for me. So you see it isn’t a genre thing at all, really.

    But I would be interested to know if your friend hated that one as well. There might be some very deep buried scientific reason.

  11. 11
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Yikes, I still haven’t set to on this :\

  12. 12
    Tom on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Going to limit comments here for obvious reasons but the consistency obsessed can make their own predictions :)

    (re #10 GRRRRR DEEP BLUE SOMETHING thats a trigger track for me too.)

    6 – MADONNA
    4 – ROLL DEEP (“celebrate every day like a bidet”)
    3 – DEXYS
    2 – EVERLYS
    1 – ENGLAND

  13. 13
    Steve Mannion on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Wow this has got to be the strongest round of the ten, fittingly. In reverse order:

    1: Roll Deep – Happy that Wiley finally got him a #1 but this isn’t a patch on e.g. Fragma
    2: England World Cup Squad – fine with this tho, second best England football song
    3: Everly Bros – next to no history with this song but like it
    4: Oxide & Neutrino – a track I went from hating to liking. the ‘Charly’ of its day i suppose.
    5: Dexy’s – good times
    6: Madonna – “When Madonna came out with her hit Vogue you knew it was over. She had taken a very specifically queer, transgendered, Latino and African-American phenomenon and totally erased that context with her lyrics, “It makes no difference if you’re black or white, if you’re a boy or girl.” Madonna was taking in tons of money, while the Queen who actually taught her how to Vogue sat before me in the club, strung out, depressed and broke. So if anybody requested Vogue or any other Madonna track, I told them, “No, this is a Madonna free zone! And as long as I’m DJ-ing you will not be allowed to Vogue to the decontextualized, reified, corporatlized, liberalized, neutralized, asexualized, re-genderized, pop reflection of this dancefloor’s reality!” Yeah but that piano!

  14. 14
    Mike Atkinson on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Aargh, that has to be a Terre Thaemlitzzzzzz whinge re. Madonna at #13. Don’t get me started! I’ll save it for Popular!

  15. 15
    Martin Skidmore on 4 Jun 2010 #

    6 points – Madonna
    5 points – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
    4 points – Roll Deep
    3 points –The Everly Brothers
    2 points – Oxide and Neutrino
    1 point – England World Cup Squad
    Other than the last, a very strong round. I even have nostalgic feelings for Back Home, as that was the first World Cup I watched, and despite England going out to Germany in the quarter-finals, exactly par now but disappointing as reigning champs, I remember it with immense fondness, largely thanks to Brazil of course.

  16. 16
    Amanda S on 4 Jun 2010 #

    6 Points: The Everly Brothers
    5 Points: Madonna
    4 Points: Dexy’s Midnight Runners – I like the song, the band but not the voice
    3 Points: Oxide And Neutrino
    2 Points: Roll Deep
    1 Point: England World Cup Squad – Do your best work on the field, boys!

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 4 Jun 2010 #

    I’ll keep it brief:

    6 points-Madonna…gorgeous
    5 points-Dexy’s…passionate
    4 points-Everly’s…classic
    3 points-Roll Deep…fun
    2 points-England…bittersweet
    1 point- Oxide & Neutrino…clever

    I’ve really enjoyed this project, Mike. I look forward to the 61’s, 71’s, 81’s, 91’s 01’s and 11’s next year!

  18. 18
    Z on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Excellent. A pleasure to listen to.
    Everly Brothers – Very good – not really something I’d listen to very often, but beautifully put together.
    Oxide And Neutrino – Oh, bless them.
    England World Cup Squad – Bless them too. I’m evidently feeling quite indulgent this afternoon. I suppose it’s young men bringing out the maternal in me. I’m surprised that I don’t hate this, but they sing as if they mean it, which is more than some do.
    Madonna – Madonna has always left me totally cold. I recognise that it’s quite unreasonable of me to put her down here but I did try – I listened to it all the way through three times and I’m still unmoved.
    1 point – Roll Deep. Could be anything of its type. Really quite dull and clichéd.

  19. 19
    grange85 on 4 Jun 2010 #

    I have to say the appeal of The Everly Brothers has often been lost on me – this is weak plodding fluff. I’ve always had a problem with football and football songs that requires a lot more space to even begin to try and explain but Back Home almost breaks through and yes… I can hear that there is real pop buried in there and the sentiment is so much sweeter than I expected. I’ve also had a long standing problem with Dexy’s mostly related to hateful people at hateful parties chanting along and stamping their feet – I’ve tried to be objective but I still feel uncomfortable listening to it. Nothing bad to be said about Vogue – it works for me when it really probably shouldn’t. Oxide & Neutrino – really, really doesn’t. Roll Deep sounds like dull tick box music.

    6 points – Madonna
    5 points – England
    4 points – Dexys
    3 points – Roll Deep
    2 points – Everly Brothers
    1 point – Oxide & Neutrino

  20. 20
    Mike Atkinson on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Scoring update: you’d think that the cumulative leader board would have stabilised by now – but in fact, the overall decade-against-decade rankings are more volatile than ever. At the moment, every set of votes received is having a significant impact on the final running order. So if you’ve fallen a few rounds behind, it’s still worth voting…

  21. 21
    David Belbin on 4 Jun 2010 #

    6 points: Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno (they didn’t play this on the Projected Passion Revue when I saw them and I agree TTMD is their pinnacle but hell, this is still wonderful)
    5 points: Madonna – Vogue
    4 points: The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown
    3 points: Roll Deep – Good Times
    2 points: England World Cup Squad – Back Home My younger brother bought this and I got very fed up of it but 8 days before our first game, I’m feeling charitable
    1 point: Oxide And Neutrino – Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)

    Glad to see it so close this year, with every decade within the % span between Conservative and Labour at the last UK election. No Lib Dems here!

  22. 22
    Steve Mannion on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Meant to add that this is the only round where I knew all six songs already. Not particularly interesting factoid there but still.

  23. 23
    Lena on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Every vote counts, so here goes:

    6 – MFK Fisher book title applies here – Not Now But Now – so it’s Roll Deep, for persisting and making a very fine club banger that says ‘you only get one life no replay’ – and sounds like bubbles of very fresh orangeade…
    5 – The Everly Brothers carry the cross of public mortification for us all. Bless them!
    4 – Oxide & Neutrino – GRIME APPEARETH
    3 – Dexy’s – Not my fave by them but it brought back Mr. Washington, so it’s all good as the kids used to say…
    2 – Madonna – Is it wrong that I like her better when she’s less…bossy?
    1 – Which leaves the English team, alas!

  24. 24
    wichita lineman on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Ever so tough to call but…

    6 Oxide & Neutrino – the first spoken word chorus to hit no.1? I only heard this for the first time last year, and it was the first record I’d heard in ages that completely confused me (other examples – Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel, J&MC’s Upside Down). It’s hilarious. And presumably it’s meant to be, pinching the hook from Casualty!

    5 Everlys – Not sure why, as I’m not THAT old, but I seem more attuned to 1960’s quirks than most. Fluff?? The arrangement and production, may I pedantically point out, shift between quasi-classical and bar-room blur. Astonishing.

    4 Dexys – Such intense emotions over such a minor figure. I totally bought into their anti-rockist, anti-band, pro-group stance on the strength of this (but not anti-alcohol).

    3 England – strangely compressed production gives it a weirdly Meekish feel that no other football song has. Like an instant time capsule, ancient before its time.

    2 Roll Deep – pleased they finally made it, but concerned about where they’re going to leave all that late night shoppin’ while they’re boppin’?

    1 Madonna – beyond the spoken part (“Harlow Jean” is endearingly clunky) it just struck me as second rate house, and late in the day at that. Ok, but Justify My Love was just round the corner.

  25. 25
    Erithian on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Enjoyed it as always Mike, and here are the final votes from the Erith jury.

    6 pts: 1960 Everly Brothers – this is exquisite. Perfect little two-minute vignettes of teen life – see also “Problems”, “Temptation” and so on. Before my time but I grew up with their music at home, and their harmonies are rarely bettered. Top by a distance.

    5 pts: 1970 England World Cup Squad – TBH I find this a really underrated record. Listen to the clever internal rhyming, the way the vocals counterpoint the rhythm. The daddy of World Cup records, and yes it was less overconfident than some – strangely since we were the holders and defending the trophy with what was considered a stronger team than in ’66 (albeit playing at 7,000 feet).

    4 pts: 1980 Dexy’s – could barely understand a word, but a cracking record. You can look like a council binman and still make great music – eh Madge?

    3 pts: 1990 Madonna – imperial phase indeed, immense self-confidence and great production. Minus points for its jackdaw qualities, and for being something I can’t really identify with, but they’re quibbles.

    2 pts: 2010 Roll Deep – is this one of those where you have to be there and of clubbing age to appreciate it? Or do people half my age find it tedious and vacuous as well? Actually on second hearing it’s growing on me a bit. Either way it’s a country mile better than…

    1 pt: 2000 Oxide and Neutrino – my wife, 31, was appalled to hear the Casualty theme being treated like this! Heavy duty alienation in the video – depicting a scary lifestyle and one that’s taken more than its fair share of victims in recent years. On hearing it again, yes it must be among the top few worst number ones of all time.

  26. 26
    Erithian on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Incidentally, if you’d done this exercise a few weeks later, we’d have lost “Back Home” but gained the number one that deposed “Vogue”, namely “World in Motion”. Which would have been an interesting debate.

  27. 27
    Steve Mannion on 4 Jun 2010 #

    #24 ‘the first spoken word chorus to hit no.1?’ There’s one ten years before it.

  28. 28
    jeff w registered on 6 Jun 2010 #

    They get to #1 for a reason, by and large. For the first time in this tournament, I’ve some really hard choices to make. At first blush, it seems unthinkable not to give the 6pts to Madge. But then I remember how heart-rending “Cathy’s Clown” can be if it catches you at the right, vulnerable moment. Or how overwhelming “Geno” can be blasting from the radio.

    I’m pleased that Roll Deep will now join the Popular honour role, but the song has not done too much for me thus far, and I suspect may soon be forgotten by the public in general.

    6pts – Everly Bros
    5pts – Madonna
    4pts – My Esso 1970 World Cup Squad Coin Collection (long since given away)
    3pts – Dexy’s
    2pts – Oxide & Neutrino
    1pt – Roll Deep

  29. 29
    lockedintheattic on 6 Jun 2010 #

    6 – Dexys – Every time I hear this song I love it a little bit more – it’s the change of pace that really makes it.
    5 – Madge
    4 – Oxide & Neutrino – it’s a shame the novelty song aspect of this gets in the way of the rest of it, which is pretty amazing (although the follow-up http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY8f5mQkrZ0 was even better)
    3 – England
    2 – Roll Deep
    1 – Everley Brothers

  30. 30
    RobMiles on 6 Jun 2010 #

    6 – Madonna. When this comes on I have to dance. If this was marks out of 10, it would be a 10.
    5 – Everly Brothers
    4 – Roll Deep. Like the backing track.
    3 – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
    2 – Oxide & Neutrino
    1 – England World Cup Squad

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